HC Deb 18 November 1936 vol 317 cc1775-8

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether the approval of his Department has been given for the use by British Airways of American machines on the London-Sweden service; and whether the agreement with this company, under which a subsidy was granted on condition that British machines would be used, will be varied?

29 and 30. Captain P. MACDONALD

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air (1) whether, in connection with the order placed for American aeroplanes by British Airways, Limited, which is in receipt of a Government subsidy, he is aware that aeroplane manufacturers in this country are too busy with Government orders to supply the necessary machines themselves; and whether, in view of the damage to British prestige through the use of foreign machines on British air lines, he will assist in the making of arrangements for the temporary use on this line of adapted military machines;

(2) whether he is aware that British Airways, Limited, which is in receipt of a Government subsidy of £25,000, is taking steps to place an order for American aeroplanes; whether there is any precedent for a subsidised company ordering foreign machines; and whether he proposes to take any action to insist on the use of British aeroplanes by British subsidised air lines?


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether the Air Ministry have issued any statements to the Press with regard to the purchase by British Airways of American aircraft?


The agreement under which the service is operated and of which a summary was contained in the White Paper (Cmd. 5203) laid before the House last June, provides that except with the consent of the Secretary of State for Air all aircraft used by the company shall be of British design and manufacture. The agreement contemplated the use of the type of aircraft known as D.H. 86A for the operation of the night air mail service, and aircraft of this type were in fact purchased by the company. They were subsequently found, however, to be unsuitable for the night service and were withdrawn. In the situation which thus arose, no suitable civil aircraft of British design and manufacture being immediately available or in early prospect and the demands of Air Force expansion making it impossible to make available to the company suitable military machines, there was no alternative, if the night air mail service were not to be abandoned, but to resort to the power under the agreement to approve the use of foreign aircraft in exceptional circumstances. Consequently, when the company sought permission for the employment of foreign aircraft, my Noble Friend was reluctantly obliged to agree to the use of the Fokker F.12 as an interim measure and to consider the proposal to use the American Lockheed Electra 10A type when deliveries can be obtained. The use of these foreign machines is an unfortunate expedient necessary to maintain the night service with its important European connections. The day passenger and mail service between this country and Sweden is not affected; it is only in regard to the night air mail service to Hanover that the question of the use by British Airways of foreign aircraft has arisen. No statements have been made by the Air Ministry to the Press with regard to the purchase of American aircraft by British Airways.


Does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate reverting to the very desirable principle of using British machines at some future date?


Yes, as early as possible.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the very damaging effect that this action has had upon British prestige abroad, and particularly throughout the Dominions, where foreign machines are also being ordered, and can he say what steps are being taken to fulfil the needs of this country?


I am quite aware of that, but it would have been even more damaging to British prestige if this night mail service had had to be abandoned.


Will the right hon. Gentleman take care that all possible orders for aircraft which can be of any use to this country should be placed wherever the contracts can be satisfactorily made?


Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to an article on this subject which appeared in the "Times" on 11th November; can he say whether that article was submitted to the Air Ministry; whether he does not consider that that article had a very damaging effect on the export trade of British aircraft; and whether he does not consider that articles of this nature should first be submitted to the Air Ministry before publication?


Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that question, will he take steps to make sure that no aeroplanes are exported from this country until the progress of our own defensive forces has been much further advanced than it is at the present time?


This is always borne in mind. In reply to the first question, I may say that I am not responsible for, nor do I wish to comment on articles which appear in the papers in connection with the Air Ministry. This article was not submitted to the Air Ministry.